Wednesday, November 30, 2005

are you bad enough to be a christian?

Below is a thought-provoking excerpt from Dory at Wittenberg Gate

Many people suppose that Christians are people who think they are getting into heaven because they have been good enough. The truth is, people who think they are good enough to get into heaven, are not Christians at all. In fact, such people are not even ready to hear the good news about what Christ has done for His people. They first have to be convinced that they have been bad enough to need Jesus’ help in the first place.

What they don’t understand is that God does not grade on a curve. He doesn’t weigh good deeds against bad deeds or let us into heaven because we’ve been pretty good. God says that every sin against His holy law makes us deserving of an eternity in Hell. Every sin--not just the big ones, such as murder or adultery, but the little ones, too, such as cheating on a math test or stealing cigarettes from Mother’s purse. God demands that we be perfect.

This puts us all in the same tough spot, because, as the Bible tells us, “there is none righteous, no, not one.” From the sweetest ‘goody-two-shoes’ to the meanest criminal--from the most successful, upstanding businessman to the most miserable failure--we will all stand before God and be found unacceptable in His sight.

Unless, that is, Christ stands in our place. And that, you see, is the good news.

It is not God’s desire that everyone go to Hell forever. He wants to save from Hell a huge number of people--more than we can count and from every race and nationality of people on the earth. In this case, we can be particularly glad that God always gets what He wants!

But God must save us in a just way. After all, if a man was a judge in a courtroom and he knowlingly let a guilty man go free, we would rightly say he was an unjust judge. God sees to it that every sin gets the just punishment it deserves. He is perfectly just.

The Son of God, in the greatest act of love that ever was, took on human flesh and became the Man, Jesus Christ. So Jesus was fully God and fully human in one person. Then Jesus did something that no other human being has ever done. He lived a perfect life. That’s right, He never sinned--not even a little bit. He never rolled His eyes at His mother. He never had a lustful thought. He never stole a piece of bread.

Then Jesus presented Himself to God the Father as a perfect substitute for the people He would save. He agreed that He would take the punishment His people deserve, so God could justly declare that those sins were already paid for. It’s as if I borrowed a hundred dollars, but someone else paid off the loan. My debt is paid and can’t be brought up to me again, even though I didn’t pay it.

This is what Jesus was doing when He died on the cross. He took upon Himself all the guilt of His people and He paid the debt they owed. He allowed Himself to be punished for the sins of others. And because Jesus is also God--the Giver of Life--He was able to overcome death and rise again to life.

Did Jesus make Himself a sacrifice for people who earned it and deserved it? No! He died for people who had no way of gaining entrance to heaven on their own. The Bible calls this gift He gave an act of grace. Grace is the giving of a gift to someone who does not deserve it and has done nothing to earn it.

Now when His people die and stand before the throne of God and Satan accuses them of this sin or that, Jesus answers, “But I have paid for that sin. There is no condemnation left for this person.”

No condemnation! What a wonderful thought! In fact, it is a life-changing thought. But only if you believe it is true. If I told you that if you believe it, you could turn stones into gold, you couldn’t make yourself believe such a thing no matter how hard you tried. You might be able to pretend you believed it, but you wouldn’t really believe it.

Believing that Christ died for your sins and that you can stand before God with no condemnation is like that, too. Either people believe it or they don’t. It is God who enables people to believe this, and when He does, it changes their lives. We call this faith.

Faith is trusting Christ alone to save you from your sins. It is not trusting your own good behavior or the blessing of some church or another. It is not trusting in prayers or altar calls. Christ saves His people and we can add nothing to His work to make it better. Sometimes we have trouble believing this because we feel like there must be something we can do or something we must do. It is so amazing to think this grace is free!

God gives His people a most precious privilege--the privilege of prayer. Remember, if you have faith, you do not stand before God now as a condemned criminal. You stand before Him in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God tells us that His people are adopted sons and daughters. You can speak to God as a child speaks to a loving father. When we pray to God, we can safely admit our sins to Him. We can ask for the things we need. We can ask for food and clothing and wisdom and a stronger faith. Unlike many earthly fathers, our heavenly Father will never forget us, nor forsake us, nor do us any wrong.

So, if you think you are bad enough to need Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and if you believe His death on the cross is the only means by which you can be saved, then you can be assured that God has done what He promised!

May God bless you with a growing faith and confidence in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Romans 10:13 “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’.”

Matthew 9:12-13 “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice, For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”

Romans 5:6-9 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”

Romans 8:1 “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

beza on law and gospel

That which we call The Word of God: Its two parts, the Law and the Gospel by Theodore Beza (1519-1605)

On this subject we call the "Word of God" (for we know well that the Eternal Son of God is also so named) the canonical books of the Old and New Testament; for they proceed from the mouth of God Himself.

We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the "Law", the other the "Gospel". For, all the rest can be gathered under the one or the other of these two headings.

What we call Law (when it is distinguished from Gospel and is taken for one of the two parts of the Word) is a doctrine whose seed is written by nature in our hearts. However, so that we may have a more exact knowledge, it was written by God on two Tables and is briefly comprehended in ten commandments. In these He sets out for us the obedience and perfect righteousness which we owe to His majesty and our neighbours. This on contrasting terms: either perpetual life, if we perfectly keep the Law without omitting a single point, or eternal death, if we do not completely fulfil the contents of each commandment (Deut. 30:15-20; James 2:10).

What we call the Gospel ("Good News") is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from Heaven (Matt 16:17; John 1:13), and totally surpasses natural knowledge. By it God testifies to us that it is His purpose to save us freely by His only Son (Rom. 3:20-22), provided that, by faith, we embrace Him as our only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor 1:30). By it, I say, the Lord testifies to us all these things, and even does it in such a manner that at the same time he renews our persons in a powerful way so that we may embrace the benefits which are offered to us (1 Cor 2:4)

>continue reading

Monday, November 28, 2005

monergism vs. synergism

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins - Ephesians 2:1

Does God do all the work in salvation (monergism), or is there a cooperation that takes place between God and myself (synergism)? I would argue for monergism. Here's a great excerpt from John Hendrix on this topic:

The great Puritan Divine Richard Sibbes once said, "God knoweth we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requireth no more than he giveth, and giveth what he requireth, and accepteth what he giveth."

In other words, what God requires of us (faith, repentance, to love Him supremely) he grants to us in Christ (2 Timothy 2:25; Eph 2:5,8). This means that while there are many precious promises declared to us in the gospel (Rom 10:4), yet the Lord understands that the outward letter, even though vigorously preached, does not itself spiritually enable sinners to receive Jesus for righteousness and salvation. A command and a promise is established in the gospel that whoever receives Jesus will be accepted and justified. Yet none of us, due to our natural love for darkness, are inclined to receive the Christ of the gospel (John 3:19). Therefore, in His great mercy to those He loves, Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to quicken us (John 6:63; John 1:13, 3:6) to a living faith that apprehends Christ and His benefits. The dead in sin are granted new life (John 5:25) by the Spirit who works in us all that is required to be made partakers of his righteousness that we might be reconciled to God. As the Spirit illumines and regenerates the soul, Christ's perfect faith and obedience are reckoned to us by God's grace, and on account of Him are we accepted as righteous before Him. What we sinners were incapable of due to pride and evil inclinations, Christ purchased for us as the Spirit unites us to His life, death and resurrection. This was so the righteousness of the law might be met in us. This purchased grace which includes our regeneration, justification and sanctification is all that power and righteousness which Christ has procured for us and of which He makes us partakers.

> Read more from John Hendrix's article, The Work of the Trinity in Monergism

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

acquiring perseverance

Acquiring Perseverance

The Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little. (Deuteronomy 7:22)

We are not to expect to win victories for the Lord Jesus by a single blow. Evil principles and practices die hard. In some places it takes years of labor to drive out even one of the many vices which defile the inhabitants. We must carry on the war with all our might, even when favored with little manifest success.
Our business in this world is to conquer it for Jesus. We are not to make compromises but to exterminate evils. We are not to seek popularity but to wage unceasing war with iniquity. Infidelity, popery, drink, impurity, oppression, worldliness, error; these are all to be "put out."

The Lord our God can alone accomplish this. He works by His faithful servants, and blessed be His name. He promises that He will so work. "Jehovah thy God will put out those nations before thee." This He will do by degrees that we may learn perseverance, may increase in faith, may earnestly watch, and may avoid carnal security. Let us thank God for a little success and pray for more. Let us never sheathe the sword till the whole land is won for Jesus.

Courage, my heart! Go on little by little, for many littles will make a great whole.

- from Faith's Checkbook, a devotional by C.H. Spurgeon

Monday, November 21, 2005

drawing near to God

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. - James 4:8

Why are we instructed to draw near to God? Because of love. We have been united in a magnificent loving relationship with Christ. Our union with Christ is a great topic for study. It assures and strengthens us, and reminds us of the tremendous feat Christ accomplished for us in our redemption.

"The saints were from the beginning joined to Christ by bands of everlasting love. Before he took on him their nature, or brought them into a conscious enjoyment of himself, his heart was set upon their persons, and his soul delighted in them. Long ere the worlds were made, his prescient eye beheld his chosen, and viewed them with delight. Strong were the indissoluble bands of love which then united Jesus to the souls whom he determined to redeem. Not bars of brass, or triple steel, could have been more real and effectual bonds. True love, of all things in the universe, has the greatest cementing force, and will bear the greatest strain, and endure the heaviest pressure: who shall tell what trials the Savior's love has borne, and how well it has sustained them? Never union more true than this. As the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David so that he loved David as his own soul, so was our glorious Lord united and joined to us by the ties of fervent, faithful love. Love has a most potent power in effecting and sustaining union, but never does it display its force so well as when we see it bringing the Maker into oneness with the creature, the divine into alliance with the human. This, then, is to be regarded as the day-spring of union,—the love of Christ Jesus the Lord embracing in its folds the whole of the elected family." - excerpt from Spurgeon's Bands of Love: or, Union to Christ

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

give & take

We hear all the time what Christ took. He took upon Himself our sins on the cross. More specifically, He took the punishment our sins deserve from the Father on the Cross. He took hell for us.

What we don't usually hear, is what He gave us. He gave us His righteousness. "Why didn't Christ just come to earth as a man and go to the cross?" some may ask. Because a vital part of Christ's work is His life as well as His death. He had to "fulfill all righteousness". He obeyed the law perfectly - doing what Adam was supposed to do (Rom 5) - and thus fulfilling the covenant of grace on our behalf. He fulfilled the law - doing what Israel was supposed to do after the Exodus.

This righteousness that Christ merited is credited to our account when we are justified (declared "not guilty"). It's not enough for Chirst to die and take our sins, He must also give us His righteousness for us to be justified.

Here's a great definition from Charles R. Biggs:
"Justification, the cardinal principle of the Reformation, is the heart of the Reformed or Presbyterian faith as truly as it is of the evangelical or Lutheran doctrine. It refers to the divine act whereby God freely makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and righteous. "Justification is forensic (that is, it is "courtroom language"). We are declared, counted or reckoned to be righteous when God imputes the righteousness of Christ (an "alien righteousness") to our account. In other words, the Judge of all the earth declares us "not guilty" when we believe because Christ was pronounced "guilty" for us on the cross. We are not first made righteous, then declared righteous; we are declared righteous by grace through faith in Christ, then made righteous! When we believe, God imputes Christ's righteousness to us 'as if' it were our own. However, it is HIS righteousness, that is why Paul says in Romans 1:17 that there is a righteousness that has been revealed from God, a righteousness not of our own, but a righteousness revealed from God and freely given to those who do not work, but to those who believe."

Justification Made Plain by C. H. Spurgeon

Monday, November 14, 2005

can i know God's will for my life?

Well, that depends on which "will" you're talking about. Here's a great excerpt from R.C. Sproul's book, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:

The Will of God
by R. C. Sproul

Doris Day sang a popular song entitled "Que Sera, Sera," "What will be, will be." At first glance this theme communicates a kind of fatalism that is depressing. Islamic theology frequently says of specific events, "It is the will of Allah."

The Bible is deeply concerned about the will of God – His sovereign authority over His creation and everything in it. When we speak about God's will we do so in at least three different ways. The broader concept is known as God's decretive, sovereign, or hidden will. By this, theologians refer to the will of God by which He sovereignly ordains everything that comes to pass. Because God is sovereign and His will can never be frustrated, we can be sure that nothing happens over which He is not in control. He at least must "permit" whatever happens to happen. Yet even when God passively permits things to happen, He chooses to permit them in that He always has the power and right to intervene and prevent the actions and events of this world. Insofar as He lets things happen, He has "willed" them in this certain sense.

Though God's sovereign will is often hidden from us until after it comes to pass, there is one aspect of His will that is plain to us---His preceptive will. Here God reveals His will through His holy law. For example, it is the will of God that we do not steal; that we love our enemies; that we repent; that we be holy. This aspect of God's will is revealed in His Word as well as in our conscience, by which God has written His moral law upon our heart.

His laws, whether they be found in the Scripture or in the heart, are binding. We have no authority to violate this will. We have the power or ability to thwart the preceptive will of God, though never the right to do so. Nor can we excuse ourselves for sinning by saying, "Que sera, sera." It may be God's sovereign or hidden will that we be "permitted" to sin, as he brings His sovereign will to pass even through and by means of the sinful acts of people. God ordained that Jesus be betrayed by the instrument of Judas's treachery. Yet this makes Judas's sin no less evil or treacherous. When God "permits" us to break His preceptive will, it is not to be understood as permission in the moral sense of His granting us a moral right. His permission gives us the power, but not the right to sin.

The third way the Bible speaks of the will of God is with respect to God's will of disposition. This will describes God's attitude. It defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, yet He most surely wills or decrees the death of the wicked. God's ultimate delight is in His own holiness and righteousness. When He judges the world, He delights in the vindication of His own righteousness and justice, yet He is not gleeful in a vindictive sense toward those who receive His judgment. God is pleased when we find our pleasure in obedience. He is sorely displeased when we are disobedient.

Many Christians become preoccupied or even obsessed with finding the "will" of God for their lives. If the will we are seeking is His secret, hidden, or decretive will, then our quest is a fool's errand. The secret counsel of God is His secret. He has not been pleased to make it known to us. Far from being a mark of spirituality,the quest for God's secret will is an unwarranted invasion of God's privacy. God's secret counsel is none of our business. This is partly why the Bible takes such a negative view of fortune-telling, necromancy, and other forms of prohibited practices.

We would be wise to follow the counsel of John Calvin when he said, "When God closes His holy mouth, I will desist from inquiry." The true mark of spirituality is seen in those seeking to know the will of God that is revealed in His preceptive will. It is the godly person who meditates on God's law day and night. While we seek to be "led" by the Holy Spirit, it is vital to remember that the Holy Spirit is primarily leading us into righteousness. We are called to live our lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It is His revealed will that is our business, indeed, the chief business of our lives.


1. The three meanings of the will of God:

(a) Sovereign decretive will, the will by which God brings to pass
whatsoever He decrees. This is hidden to us until it happens.

(b) Preceptive will is God's revealed law or commandments, which we have the
power but not the right to break.

(c) Will of disposition describes God's attitude or disposition. It reveals
what is pleasing to Him.

2. God's sovereign "permission" of human sin is not His moral approval.

Chapter 22
pages 67-69
Essentials Truths Of The Christian Faith
R C Sproul

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

is reformed theology committed to transforming culture?

On yesterday's post, I featured an excerpt from R.C. Sproul about reformed theology. I agree with most of it, however, a friend brought up this line from his essay:

"Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire life and world view. It is covenantal. It is sacramental. It is committed to transforming culture."

Is reformed theology committed to transforming culture? As far as the bible is concerned, cultural transformation isn't really addressed all that much, except when Christ returns. I think reformed theology can definitely have an effect on culture (just look at the legacy of the reformation), but it's not the primary focus of the bible. The focus, instead, is on God in history saving His people from their sins unto Himself. It's a covenantal plan whereby His people are brought out of the kingdom of Satan, and placed into the kingdom of His Son. The consumation of this comes at the end of the world, not now.

Am I saying Christians shouldn't be involved in politics or care? Not at all. As Ken Jones says so well in his article Can Politics Save?, "To look at the world around us we should be outraged at the crime and violence injustices, poverty and corruption. And we should use the political process through personal involvement to make a change. But any positive change should not be construed as salvation or returning America back to God."

Read the full article by Ken Jones

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

the fine points of calvinism

The Fine Points of Calvinism

by R.C. Sproul
An Excerpt from the November 2005 issue of Tabletalk

The late theologian Cornelius Van Til once made the observation that Calvinism is not to be identified with the so-called five points of Calvinism. Rather Van Til concluded that the five points function as a pathway, or a bridge, to the entire structure of Reformed theology. Likewise, Charles Spurgeon argued that Calvinism is merely a nickname for biblical theology. These titans of the past understood that the essence of Reformed theology cannot be reduced to five particular points that arose as points of controversy centuries ago in Holland with the Remonstrants, who objected to five specific points of doctrine found in historic Calvinism. Those five points have become associated with the acrostic TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.

It is the task of this article to approach the question of Reformed theology from the perspective of what is called in philosophy the via negativa. This method of approaching truth defines things in terms of what they are not; hence, it is called the “way of negation.” For example, when we speak of the nature of God, we say that He is infinite, which simply means that He is “not finite.” This is an example of the use of the way of negation. When we have a clear understanding of how to employ this method, the way of affirmation, its opposite, becomes manifest. As we look at what Reformed theology is not, it helps us to understand what it is.

We begin by saying that Reformed theology is not a chaotic set of disconnected ideas. Rather, Reformed theology is systematic. Historically, the principle of systematic theology has been this: The Bible, being the Word of God, reflects the coherence and unity of the God whose Word it is. True systematic theology seeks to understand the system of theology that is contained within the whole scope of sacred Scripture.

The next point we make by way of negation is that Reformed theology is not anthropocentric. That is to say, Reformed theology is not centered on human beings. The central focal point of Reformed theology is God, and it’s the doctrine of God that permeates the whole of the substance of Reformed thought. Thus Reformed theology, by way of affirmation, can be called theocentric (God centered).

After Reformed theology articulates its doctrine of the nature and the character of God in the first principles of its system of doctrine, it does not thereafter forget its affirmations when it addresses other doctrines. Rather, our understanding of the character of God is primary and determinant with respect to our understanding of all other doctrines. That is to say, our understanding of salvation has as its control factor, right at the heart of it, our understanding of the character of God.

Reformed theology is not anti-catholic. The term catholic refers to catholic Christianity, the essence of which may be found in the ecumenical creeds of the first thousand years of church history. Those creeds contain common articles of faith shared by all denominations that embrace orthodox Christianity, doctrines such as the Trinity and the atonement of Christ. The doctrines affirmed by all Christians are at the heart and core of Calvinism. Calvinism does not depart on a search for a new theology and reject the common base of theology that the whole church shares.

Reformed theology is not Roman Catholic in its understanding of justification. This is simply to say that Reformed theology is evangelical in the historical sense of the word. In this regard, Reformed theology stands strongly and firmly with Martin Luther and the magisterial Reformers in their articulation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It affirms the solas of the Reformation, which are the formal and material causes of the sixteenth-century Reformation. Those two principles are the doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. Neither of these doctrines are explicitly declared in the five points of Calvinism; yet, in a sense, they become the foundation for the other characteristics of Reformed theology. These introductory statements about what Reformed theology is not are given a much broader and deeper expression in my book What Is Reformed Theology? , which was written to help laypersons and Christian leaders understand the essence of Reformed theology. Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire life and world view. It is covenantal. It is sacramental. It is committed to transforming culture. It is subordinate to the operation of God the Holy Spirit, and it has a rich framework for understanding the entirety of the council of God revealed in the Bible.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is author of the book What Is Reformed Theology?

Monday, November 07, 2005

hebrews 6: fear or assurance?

Hebrews 6 can throw Christians into doubt if it's not carefully considered in it's context. Far from bringing fear for the true believer, it should bring much assurance. The author, in the middle of the chapter, says, "Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation."

The analogy of faith (reading unclear passages in light of clear ones) is so important here, as well as context. In the first half of this chapter, the author is, I believe speaking of those who attend the church visible, yet are not of the church invisible. They benefit from being with God's covenant people to be sure, but not in the inward working of the Spirit in those who are predestined for His glory.

Read the last part again, true believer, and rest assured in His promise:

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. - Heb 6:13-20

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

throne = grace + mercy

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Heb 4:16

This is such a rich passage. Read it slowly.

The throne of grace is to be a frequent visiting place for the believer, for mercy when we sin, but also for grace to help us not sin.

Calvin on this passage:
The ground of this assurance is, that the throne of God is not arrayed in naked majesty to confound us, but is adorned with a new name, even that of grace, which ought ever to be remembered whenever we shun the presence of God. For the glory of God, when we contemplate it alone, can produce no other effect than to fill us with despair; so awful is his throne. The Apostle, then, that he might remedy our diffidence, and free our minds from all fear and trembling, adorns it with "grace," and gives it a name which can allure us by its sweetness, as though he had said, "Since God has affirmed to his throne as it were the banner of 'grace' and of his paternal love towards us, there are no reasons why his majesty should drive us away.